A couple days ago, I poked my head into the new bookshop that opened in Bristol recently. They’re called The Last Bookshop and they sell ‘reject’ stock from some of the struggling mainstream booksellers for seriously reduced prices. As in, £2 per book! I’ll be posting more about them in a couple of days, so stay tuned.
On this particular visit I found a book calledThe Management Gurus, edited by Chris Lauer. It’s a compilation of all the “best management books of all time,” as stated in bold green letters on the cover. Each chapter is a summary of one such book and as a whole you’re meant to be left with a wide scope of good advice from the best books in the profession. I’ve just finished reading about relationships, as discussed by John C. Maxwell, author of several books about leadership development, and I thought I share my thoughts about how the subject pertains to booksellers.
As with so many self-help books, a lot of the advice is rather self-evident. Even so, I find it helpful to read an eloquent explanation of a valuable lesson every once in a while. In the chapter Winning with People the lesson is, How to get along with others. Maxwell believes that the best leaders are those who can relate to people well and maintain those relationships over time. Leaders as he defines them:
- are always ready to reach out to people
- they are willing to step outside of themselves and focus on others
- they are always eager to learn from others
- they are trustworthy, approachable, and patient
- they are willing to invest 101% into a healthy relationship
- and they set high standards for themselves
It’s a worthy first chapter in a book about management; after all, what can be more important in a business than the people? All the more so for bookstores. With more and more people working from home these days and turning to the internet for so many of their needs, we are seeing that people prefer the friendly, small, intimate experience of shopping at their local suppliers over the big chains where they are just part of the machine. We’re social creatures. The more we find ourselves staring at our laptop screens, surely the more we’ll want to flee to the nearest independent coffee shop, bookstore or grocery, anywhere that will have real live humans with whom we can have real live conversations. Of course, I’m generalizing that all people want small, local and friendly and that all small, local shops are friendly. But I think it’s safe to say small, local shops have a better chance of surviving if they are friendly, if they reach out to their customers and if they attempt to form lasting connections.
Booksquare’s Kassia Krozser had a funny store highlighting the differences between Barnes & Noble and her local bookstores when it came to customer service. Not slagging off B&N, btw. I’ve spent many happy hours in my local B&N over the years. But I am saying, it’s hard to build up a rapport with your customers when you have a staff of over thirty or so and you rarely see the same customer twice. Also, not allowing customers to use your bathroom is never an endearing quality. Nothing says you trust and love your customer unconditionally like opening your bathroom door to them.
As for myself, there have been several occasions where I’ve gone into a bookshop, even a nice, cozy one, perused for half an hour, and then left without buying anything. Why? Because usually, unless a friendly staff person engages me in conversation or a useful staff picks post-it note on the shelf grabs my attention and inspires me, my sense of practicality wins out ever time. I can’t afford more books. I have nowhere to put them.
In other words, I need to be seduced.
On the other hand, there have been multiple times when I’ve gone into a bookstore, read the staff reviews on the shelves with relish, had a staff person engage me in conversation and I left with, not only a bag full of books, but a bag full of happy, positive feelings towards that particular store and their friendly staff.
So what can booksellers learn from Maxwell? What are some practical ways to make your bookstore a safe space and a novel experience that customers can’t get anywhere else?